7 Books That Help Me Get Through Military Life

  1. The Five Love Languages Military Edition : The Secret To Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman and Jocelyn Green. This is on the top of the list of books I lend out to my military friends – both to soldiers and to their spouses/significant others. This book goes through each of the five love languages – the ways people give and receive love –  (physical touch, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, and gift-giving) and walks through how to make each love work with the challenges of military life. Long distance obviously makes quality time, acts of service, and physical touch a little challenging – especially in the ‘traditional routes’ – and the frequent lack of communication makes words of affirmation a little difficult as well. We read through this when we were dating and engaged – all long distance – and I would highly recommend every military couple go through it together. Not only does understanding each persons love language help both people feel loved, it also allows for much more efficient communication, which is crucial to making this life work well.
  2. Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joyby Emily Ley. I just finished this book, and I loved it. Emily Ley is not a military wife, but her book reads like you’re getting coffee with one of your girlfriends. She’s the creator of The Simplified Planner, which has essentially changed how I plan my week and schedule our family. Her focus is on finding joy in your daily life, and simplifying. Her tagline is ‘I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection’. Be honest – how many of us need the reminder to show ourselves a little more grace in this life? I know I do! Especially on those days where I feel like the ‘worst army wife ever’. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever packed an essential piece of gear your soldier needs… and then put it in a box in the very back of the storage unit.)
  3. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. So, I actually did not know this was a book, originally. I was told to watch the miniseries by one of my favorite military wife friends, and was obsessed by the end of the first episode. The book/series both follow the wives of the first astronauts, from being military pilots’ wives, to space training, on through some of their husbands leaving/retiring from the program. These women knew they needed a tribe to get through this life. We may not be sending our soldiers to the moon, but the need for a tight-knit community has not changed. There’s a focus on how the world was rapidly changing, and how the wives had to either change with it or get quickly swept up, and it’s hard not to compare life then to life now. (But with a definite appreciation for new amenities like Internet, FaceTime, and air conditioning!)
  4. For the Love: Fighting for Grace In a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker. If you have not read a Jen Hatmaker book, stop what you’re doing and go get this one – immediately. I love her books. Not only is she absolutely hilarious – I haven’t been able to get through a single one without laughing – but she has excellent marriage advice that can apply no matter what your significant other’s job is. This is the book I reach for when I’m handling one of J’s deployments or schools – where the dog is sick, the car breaks down, and the washing machine is spewing soap all over my floor.
  5. Invisible Women: Junior Enlisted Army Wives by Margaret C. Harrell. My mom gave me this book when J and I got engaged – when I was getting ready to become a junior enlisted army wife myself. Aside from being filled with helpful (if a little dated – the book was published in 2000) information, this book taught me just how much military wives have to say, and that I was in for quite a culture shock. When J and I first got married, he was a Specialist, and I had been the kid of a dual-military family. Understanding the struggles that some of the women around me were going through helped me to both feel like I wasn’t on my own in this, and also to understand that I have no idea what battles those wives at the commissary are facing, and not to pass judgement. In a world where the people who seem to be the meanest to other military wives are other wives, it’s a good reminder to have.
  6. On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peaceby Dave Grossman and Loren W. Christensen. I’m not going to lie to you – this is a heavy read. I’d suggest reading it in pieces, truthfully. But it is normally at the top of any list of books I suggest, especially for women whose husbands will be frequently in combat. Understanding the way that combat (and the intense training that highly deployed jobs require) rewires the brain, has impacted how I approach J and our marriage in times of high stress (IE, the reintegration period after a deployment). Understanding the type of person who chooses to run towards bullets, and who chooses a dangerous job in defense of others, actually helped me understand the things I found as ‘annoyances’ to be J’s strengths, and many of the things that actually are the reasons I love him. **Grossman also has another book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society , that I would highly recommend as well. Obviously this is also a heavy read, and can be considered disturbing by some.**
  7. While They’re at War: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront By Kristin Henderson. This is one of the first books I read when J decided he was going to be pursuing his new career. It takes place in Fort Bragg, which was probably the initial appeal. (I love Fort Bragg… I know, super weird but it’s actually not that bad of a place once you get to explore.) It follows a group of wives through what it’s like to have their soldier’s deployed. The wives are Active Duty, so it looks different than a national guard deployment, but there are definitely some similar through lines – the anxiety and stress, the need for community, and the reminder that everyone’s story is different.

Honorable Mentions – These books are not necessarily what I would call ‘tools’ so much as military-related books that I read over and over and over again, especially when J is gone or busy.

  1. Home and Away: A Story of a Family In a Time of War by David and Nancy French.
  2. American Wife: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith, and Renewal by Taya Kyle

Truthfully, I could have made this list go on and on for pages and pages. I love reading military books . Love them. If you have any you love – I’d love to add more to my bookshelf, or recommend a few others!

A Sheepdog Wife Update (Because I’ve Been Quiet For A While…)

So, I’ve taken the last few months to kind of re-work what I thought this blog was supposed to be, and turn into. The ‘game plan’ and objective has changed approximately 900 times. Instead of dragging you (and my brain) along on every single change of direction, and u-turn I’ve taken on this journey, I thought I would give a post that kind of outlines why I started this in the first place, and where I hope to go in the near-ish future.

Four years ago (ish) my now husband and I had known each other for about six months. We were ‘talking,’ or dating, or whatever it is kids call it today when two people are trying to decide if they want to be together long-term. I knew he was in the National Guard, which meant weekend drills that truthfully didn’t affect me much. I had always said that, as the daughter of two soldiers, I would NOT marry someone in the military – but I figured I could handle the ‘one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer’ style of military life.

One night, right before he headed out of the country for two weeks, he dropped the bomb on me that he was going to try to take his military career to the ‘next level’. It would mean a three year long school, ten hours away from where I was living. It meant not only leaving his long-term (and higher paying) business consulting job, but taking a roughly fifty percent pay cut, and a much more dangerous job. He had his mind dead set on this, and I would need to either be supportive, or back off and let him ‘go it alone’. It took all of 30 seconds for me to know I wanted to be part of this adventure if it meant that we could do it together.

That night is probably the exact moment that the idea for this blog started to take place. I’m a researcher by nature, so I went home and immediately started reading. Blogs, websites, books, forums – you name it. I needed to know how best to help J and encourage him through this. The next three years would be physically (for him) and emotionally demanding (for both of us). I wanted J’s career and our marriage to make it through – stronger on the other side. On top of that, I wanted to really understand J. What makes someone leave a comfortable office job, and want to go get shot at? (For less pay!)

If I’m being honest, I couldn’t really find much. There were some great resources for people just learning about the military, or who were absolutely new to this community and wanted to learn things like rank, pay, or all of the thousands of acronyms. I’d grown up military – both parents were in – so I knew the basics and had a solid background of knowledge to work with. Since I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, I settled for looking up as much info as possible on the job and the training, and kind of drawing my own conclusions. This blog got started then – mainly as a place for me to be able to process, and handle some of my snarkier opinions.

Fast forward two years. We got married and I moved down for the last year and a half of training. I met other wives married to these wonderful guys – as well as the ‘guys’ themselves. The more I got to know them, and the more I struggled through learning how to be married (which is challenging enough!) and how to be married into this crazy lifestyle, the more I realized the reason a lot of problems were arising in the marriages in this community was because we were all incredibly unprepared. Sure, the handful of us who were military ‘brats’ had a leg up – but as we moved forward with our husbands’ careers, the more we realized that we didn’t know.

I started really thinking about writing the book sometime about six months before we were going to move. I’d read that the divorce rate in the community J and I were about to join was hovering right around 75 percent. That blew my mind, and broke my heart. Right around then, J and I decided he was going to fight to go on a deployment with his unit, leaving two weeks after we would be moving back to our hometown.

I was going to have to readjust and learn a whole new set of rules. And, I wanted to be able to pass this knowledge on to wives, girlfriends, and fiancees who might not have the time or desire to spend weeks researching or reading about their husband’s job – or those women who don’t live near a base, and can’t create a ‘tribe’ of anyone who really understands. The more I thought about it – and the more I really talked to my girlfriends who were walking through this, and learning by lots of trial and error – the more I realized that I HAD to write a book. I had to pass on any knowledge I could, to help people get through this life even a little easier than I had.

I’m still (slowly) churning out the book, but it’s becoming more of a corner-piece to a much more elaborate plan, and something far larger than I anticipated. The goal of the book is going to be to tell the military wives story, (the real one, not the one that’s on Lifetime… I love that show, but that is not what my life looks like) and to give all of the military marriages a better chance at killing that 75 percent statistic. The over-all goal is to actually be a part of lowering the statistic, by giving the ‘sheepdogs’ and their wives a chance and the tools to really thrive in this life – not just get by on survival mode. How? In the spirit of authenticity, I’m still working that part out. I’ve gone back and forth between expanding the blog into a forum where we can reach out to one another and give and receive advice, or even a non profit to create a ‘curriculum’ for people in this community to follow.

For now, it looks a lot like this – writing for the people who take the time to read it, and sharing even when it’s ramble-y and snarky. And, for making myself available for questions and vents and suggestions. (Seriously – I’m on Instagram as TheSheepdogWife! And I can always be reached via email or comments here!)